Kids can encounter all kinds of unique challenges when they’re learning to speak and understand what’s being spoken to them. One impediment to typical speech development is tongue thrust, which occurs when the tongue rests at a forward position of the mouth and is thrust against or between the teeth during swallowing and speech. It’s sometimes referred to as “reverse swallow,” “immature swallow” or “open bite.” It’s a type of orofacial myofunctional disorder – and our Akron speech therapy team can help to treat it.
An orofacial myofunctional disorder is one that involves the muscle function of the mouth and face. Correct positioning of the tongue is the tongue pushing or pressing against the gums directly above the back front upper teeth.
Tongue thrust is actually present in almost all young children, but most have automatically switched to a normal swallowing/speech pattern by the time they’re 6-years-old. If they have not (or if you notice earlier than that it appears to be affecting speech articulation issues), it’s time to consult an Akron speech therapy team.
Causes of Tongue Thrust
We don’t always know what causes tongue thrust, but it could be from several factors combined.
Some conditions that may be causal:
- Upper airway constriction. If a child has a tough time or inability to breathe through the nose (sometimes from unresolved or frequent upper respiratory infections), chronic nasal congestions, or a deviated septum, it can cause tongue thrust.
- Prolonged pacifier, bottle, or sippy cup use or long-term thumb sucking. Any of these can contribute to a greater likelihood a child will develop tongue thrust. Other habits that could exacerbate the risk are things like teeth grinding and clenching, chewing nails or cuticles or sucking on one’s cheeks, lips, or tongue.
- Structural abnormalities. In some cases, it could be the result of a physiological issues, such as a low-lying, forward position of the tongue.
- Developmental delay. In some cases, developmental delays and differences associated with conditions like epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy, or down syndrome may contribute to the development of tongue thrust.
Why Tongue Thrust Needs to be Treated With Akron Speech Therapy
The concern with tongue thrust is multi-pronged.
For dentists and orthodontists, the worry is that when there is too much tongue pressure against the teeth from the inside (and an unequal amount of facial pressure on the outside), it can result in the teeth becoming misaligned. Specifically, the front teeth are going to end up being pushed forward. This can necessitate braces and extensive dental work when they get older. Untreated tongue-thrust can also result in long-term issues not only for aesthetics (potentially causing changes to the shape of the face, causing it to become more elongated while the tongue protrudes), but for feeding/swallowing and speech. It can also cause frequently cracked, chapped and sore lips (from constant licking) to frequent mouth breathing – even if your child has no allergies or congestion.
In particular with speech, tongue thrust can cause speech articulation problems. Articulation is the formation of clear and distinct sounds in speech. Kids with tongue thrust may have an especially rough time properly pronouncing the following sounds:
Our Akron speech therapy team uses special techniques to help avoid adverse outcomes.
Speech therapists will conduct an evaluation and then assign exercises that help promote a normal swallowing pattern and production of correct speech.
Each exercise is going to be tailored to the child’s exact needs, but they’re going to involve activities that press the tip of the tongue against the gum in the roof of the mouth, right behind the front teeth. An example would be putting a small sugarless candy (or raisin or Cheerio) on the tip of the tongue and having the child touch it to the roof of their mouth – and hold it there while they’re swallowing. Practicing this and other exercises over time can help kids unlearn the tongue thrust habit and start properly swallowing and correctly producing certain sounds.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy and feeding therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Tongue Thrust and Treatment of Subsequent Articulation Disorders, Feb. 24, 2011, ASHA
More Blog Entries:
Why Our Cleveland Speech Therapists Teach Kids How to Make Inferences, June 14, 2022, Akron Speech Therapy Blog